The Blue Book They Didn't Want Us to Read: How Britain, Germany and South Africa Destroyed a Damning Book on German Atrocities in Namibia

New African, January 2002 | Go to article overview

The Blue Book They Didn't Want Us to Read: How Britain, Germany and South Africa Destroyed a Damning Book on German Atrocities in Namibia


In 1926, both the British and South African governments ordered the destruction of a 212-page "Blue Book" on the "first organised genocide of the 20th century" committed by the German colonial government in Namibia, for which the Herero people are now suing the German government and three German companies for $4 billion damages.

The British government had ordered the publication of the Blue Book in 1918. The expression "Blue Book" was used in those days to refer to any report published and distributed by the British parliament.

The full title of the Namibian "Blue Book" was: "Union of South Africa -- Report On The Natives Of South-West Africa And Their Treatment By Germany".

It was prepared by the South African Administrator's Office in Windhoek in January 1918, and published in the UK by the British government's official publisher, His Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO). Sold at the unit price of "2s 6d net", the Blue Book was presented to both Houses of Parliament in London "by command of His Majesty" in August 1918.

Yet, eight years later, in 1926, His Majesty's Government and its allies in South Africa were ordering the "total destruction" of the book. Germany was being rehabilitated after World War I by the Allies, and the Blue Book had become an "embarrassment" as it "painted the European in too poor light".

Some copies did survive though, and New African is happy to announce that we now have a copy. From next month, we are going to serialise it for the benefit of all.

But for now, as a taster, we publish below excerpts from Jeremy Silvester's excellent paper (published two years ago) about the background to the compilation and destruction of the Blue Book.

Silvester, from the History Department of the University of Namibia, tided his paper: "The Politics of Reconciliation: Destroying the Blue Book". It is a veritable eye-opener.

"The Blue Book drew heavily on statements from 47 different witnesses to produce a stinging criticism of the German colonial period in Namibia. However, within a decade, orders were issued for every copy of this indictment of German colonialism to be destroyed.

The destruction, in 1926, was carried out as an act of post-War reconciliation as efforts were made to integrate the German-speaking white population of Namibia within a new South African-sponsored colonial project.

Major Thomas Leslie O'Reilly was appointed as the military magistrate for Omaruru on 22 August 1916. O'Reilly would be the primary compiler of the Blue Book, which had been drafted by the end of 1917.

The first image that confronts the reader and which sets the tone for the rest of the book is one of six dead Namibians hanging from a makeshift gallows with a number of apparently disinterested German soldiers standing around.

The 212-page final report that follows is divided into two sections. The first 150 pages contained 15 chapters written by O'Reilly, entitled "Natives and German Administration", whilst the second section (49 pages) with the heading "Natives and the Criminal Law" was the responsibility of Mr A. J, Waters, who had served as the crown prosecutor for Namibia from October 1915.

The final pages of the Blue Book reproduce (as appendices) three more sets of documents. The first is a short "medical report on German methods of punishment" (accompanied by 11 more photographs of various types of chains, prisoners in chains and a final pair of images of five more Namibians hanging from trees).

The next two appendices contain documents written in German - the first, a letter sent by the German governor to his district officers, and the next letters sent by German officials based at Luderitzbucht which complain about the ill-treatment of the local black population by the white residents of the town and surrounding district.

The central role played by O'Reilly in gathering the evidence contained in the Blue Book can be seen in the fact that many of the witnesses he prominently quoted were living in the Omaruru District. …

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